Is that snow or dandruff on your shoulders?

Dandruff is a very common scalp condition that affects approximately one in five Canadians. It is generally treated with an over-the-counter shampoo.

Dandruff vs. haircare product residues

Before treating your scalp with a medicated shampoo, make sure those little flakes on your hair or clothing are in fact dandruff, and not simply residue from your hair products (spray, gel, mousse, etc.). If the flakes are accompanied by scalp itchiness, the chances are it’s dandruff. Still unsure? Talk to your pharmacist or doctor.

Choosing a product

Dandruff can usually be controlled by using an over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoo.

Anti-dandruff shampoos contain various ingredients, which each act in a different way:

  • Zinc pyrithione: acts on the fungus that causes dandruff 
  • Selenium: slows the overly rapid growth of scalp cells 
  • Tar: slows the overly rapid growth of scalp cells 
  • Salicylic acid: helps rid the scalp of dead skin cells 
  • Ketoconazole: acts on the fungus that causes dandruff

Tar- and selenium-based products can alter the colour of pale or dyed hair, while products containing salicylic acid tend to dry out the scalp.

Your pharmacist can help you choose the right product for your needs.

Initial treatment

When you start the treatment, it is recommended you use the product every day until the problem clears up.

Although these products are shampoos, the goal is to treat the scalp. When applying the product, make sure to spread it across the entire surface of the scalp. Some products may need to be left on for a few minutes before rinsing. Once you have left it on for the recommended time, rub the product until it lathers, to wash hair. Then apply conditioner, if so desired.

Maintenance phase

After an initial intensive treatment, continue using the shampoo regularly, to maintain dandruff control. In most cases, two or three applications a week should do. Between treatments, use your regular shampoo. 

If a product that originally worked well appears to become less effective over time, try alternating between two products that act in different ways. 

When nothing works

If the over-the-counter anti-dandruff shampoos you buy at the pharmacy aren’t doing the job, you may wish to try a prescription treatment. It is possible that you suffer from something else, such as psoriasis or eczema. See a doctor to get a correct diagnosis.

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